The US Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday approved the design for the Boeing 737-8200, a variant of the embattled MAX family of aircraft.
The denser, 197-seat MAX variant is essentially designed for budget carriers, with its biggest supporter and launch customer being European budget giant Ryanair.
Ryanair made its first order for the 197-seat jet in late 2014. The agreement includes 100 firm orders and 100 options. Ryanair later made another firm order for 10 jets in 2017, and a further 25 in 2018.
Then, the entire fleet of 737 MAX jets were grounded in May 2019, following the second of two fatal crashes that killed 346 people in total.
The crashes were later identified to have been caused in part by faults in the plane’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System.
Following a months-long process of safety upgrades and test flights, the FAA was the first to lift its grounding order on the jet in November 2020.
Just weeks after recertification, in December 2020, Ryanair announced an order for a further 75 MAX aircraft in a deal worth over $9 billion.
Ryanair group chief executive Michael O’Leary called the December 737 MAX order “the deal of the new century”, after touting the airline would secure the deal at a significant discount.
Speaking of today’s news, the FAA said the newly certified 737 MAX 8200 “incorporated all of the design improvements that were part of the 20-month review of the 737 MAX, including those related to Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS)”.
While the FAA is a crucial step in delivering these aircraft to Ryanair, the European carrier will still be required to wait until the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) follows suit, and also approves the 737 MAX 8200 for operation in Europe.
Commenting on the development, Boeing said on Wednesday that it would “continue to work with global regulators to safely return the 737-8 and -9 to service”.
“Our teams are also focused on ensuring future members of the 737 family meet all regulatory requirements,” the planemaker added.
Last week, World of Aviation reported that Ryanair had reduced the number of MAX jets it intends to welcome by the crucial European summer season from 24 to 16, thanks to a delay in the recertification of the Boeing 737 MAX in both Europe and the UK.
Under the new delivery schedule, the European airline expects to receive eight MAX jets each month in April and May, and none in June.
Despite the setback, the airline continues to throw its support behind the aircraft, with O’Leary marking it as a commercial and financial “gamechanger”, as the 737 MAX can carry 4 per cent more passengers, with 16 per cent less fuel burn, than its 737 predecessor.